Defending champion Ooltewah and No. 3 seed Soddy-Daisy posted opening day victories on Thursday in the District 5-AAA baseball tournament at A.C. “Bud” Ball Field on the Owls’ campus.
The Owls’ Brody Binder went 2-for-3, including a three-run homer and left-hander Logan Fugate threw a complete-game seven-hitter in a 7-3 win over Cleveland.
The Trojans, last year’s Cinderella team that finished second and earned an unlikely Region 3-AAA semifinal berth, got shutout pitching from Christian Amos – he’s been stingy all season – and Soddy-Daisy knocked off Walker Valley, 3-0.
Amos also threw a complete game, throwing 71 strikes among his 105 pitches.
On Friday, second-seed Bradley Central (17-11) plays No. 7 McMinn County (11-16) at 5 p.m. and Ooltewah (17-12) tangles with top-seed East Hamilton (21-13) at 8 p.m.
Ooltewah 7, Cleveland 3: Binder and Fugate formed a formidable duo against the Blue Raiders (10-19), who have lost two of three games to Ooltewah this season.
As soon as the game concluded, the two seniors had to scurry off to Senior Night ceremonies.
Fugate wriggled out of a first-inning jam in what Owls coach Brian Hitchcox called the game’ most pivotal moment.
Cleveland loaded the bases on a single by Clint Clayton, a fielder error by Owls second baseman Sam Zettel and a hit batter (David Queen) with one out in the first.
Fugate got Taylor Thompson, the Blue Raiders’ starter, on a pop to first and struck out Austin Dykes on a 3-2 pitch to end the threat.
“That was huge,” Hitchcox said. “Cleveland comes away with nothing and I thought that was a big momentum shift. Then we get some runs and go up 4-0. I felt good at that point.”
In the Owls’ first, Fugate led off with a single and scored on Binder’s ensuing double to left field. Binder moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Hayden Bradley’s groundout for a 2-0 lead.
Bryson Owen, batting eighth in the lineup, beat out a high chopper for a one-out single in the second. On a perfectly executed hit-and-run, No. 9 batter Sam Zettel laced a single to right and sent Owen to third.
Fugate followed with a run-scoring double and Zettel later scored on Binder’s groundout.
Bam! The Owls push the lead to 4-0 against the Blue Raiders’ ace right-hander. In two innings, Ooltewah raked Thompson for four runs and six hits.
Cleveland coach Ted Carson brought in reliever Conor Mitchell to start the third.
“They got a 4-0 lead and it didn’t look like Taylor had his best stuff,” Carson said. “If we could get a big hit in that first inning it might have been a different story.”
The Blue Raiders, the tournament’s fifth seed, cut their deficit in half on Queen’s two-run double to left field. Queen’s hit scored Jay McIntire and Hunter Oliver, who doubled and singled ahead of him.
Fugate struck out Thompson and retired Dykes on a popup to first to end that threat and retired seven of the next eight before running into bit of trouble in the sixth.
Dykes singled and Derek Nichols doubled him to third. Owls shortstop Mitch Duncan misplayed Koltyn Plumb’s grounder that would have been the third out and Dykes scored Cleveland’s third run.
That was far from enough.
Because Binder had given Fugate and the Owls plenty of breathing room with his second homer of the season.
With one out in the fourth, Owen flied out to left. Zettel beat out an infield hit and Fugate followed with his third hit in as many at-bats. On a 0-1 pitch from Mitchell, Binder hit a pitch about shoe-high and sent a three-run rocket over the left-field fence near the 303-foot marker.
“It was a changeup down and I just stayed with it,” Binder said. “I didn’t think it was going out. In fact, I asked the umpire if it did. Us having a 7-2 lead made the flow of the game a lot easier.”
Fugate effectively scattered seven hits and struck out five while walking none in another solid pitching performance.
But, the smooth-throwing left-hander was thankful for Binder’s homer that produced insurance runs to work with.
“I didn’t really have my good stuff early, but as the game went on I felt a lot better,” Fugate said. “I got that five-pitch inning (the fifth) and that helped me a lot. And Brody’s home run really took the pressure off.”
Together, Binder and Fugate were a combined 5-for-7 – that was half the Owls’ 10-hit attack – with four runs scored and six RBIs.
The rest of the team went 5-for-19 with three runs and one RBI.
“Production from the bottom of the order was really good,” Hitchcox said. “And once Logan settled in he really started throwing the ball well.”
Collectively, Owen and Zettel were 3-for-6 and scored three runs.
And the Owls move on to face the regular-season champion Hurricanes in Friday’s second game.
“Mentally, the first game of the tournament is the toughest because everybody’s a little tight,” Hitchcox said. “That’s why you throw your best (pitcher). The margin for error is really small. When you’re not deep on the mound, you need every win you can get.
“Now we have another matchup with East Hamilton.”
The Owls lost twice to the Hurricanes 2-1 and 7-5 in the middle of a four-game losing streak earlier in the season.
Soddy-Daisy 3, Walker Valley 0: Amos, a hard-throwing right-hander, came into Thursday’s game with a 0.28 ERA and after blanking the Mustangs, it was lower when he left Ooltewah High for the ride home.
“He’s been unbelievable all year,” Trojans coach Jared Hensley said. “He’s allowed only one earned run all year. I’m really glad he’s on our side.”
After shutting down Walker Valley, Amos improved his record to 5-0.
“I felt in control throughout the game,” said Amos, who gave up six hits while striking out eight and walking one. “I was able to hit my spots and I didn’t give Walker Valley many pitches to hit. My fastball was very effective.”
The Mustangs (10-19) had base runners in every inning except the third when Amos retired Bradley Smith, Elijah West and opposing pitcher John Simmons in order on eight pitches.
Amos gave up three hits and allowed four base runners in the first inning, but was helped when left-fielder Tre Carter fielded Ben Clark’s single and threw a one-hop strike to catcher Dillon Clift to nail West for the third out.
Only three of the other nine Mustangs runners reached second base.
“We outhit them (6-5), but we didn’t put any hits together when we needed them,” Walker Valley coach Joe Shamblin said. “You’ve got to get timely hits.”
The Trojans, who have beaten Walker Valley three times this season by a combined score of 17-2 (Amos has two of the wins), were able to do that in the first two innings.
With two out in the first, Clift doubled to center, went to third on Andy Wright’s hit and scored when Walker Valley left-fielder Smith made an error trying to pick up the ball.
Simmons walked Caden Ricketts and Cale Morgan to start the second inning. Ricketts went to third on two wild pitches.
Morgan stole second base and Ricketts raced home on a delayed steal to score the Trojans’ second run.
After Carter struck out Dev DeMatteo’s single scored Morgan. Austin Hickey drew a walk. Hickey tried to steal second, but Simmons stepped off the rubber and threw to second baseman West, who turned and threw home in time to get DeMatteo at the plate.
Clift struck out to end the inning.
After that Simmons was just as stingy was Amos, giving up just two hits over the final four innings. Simmons struck out nine and walked four while limiting Soddy-Daisy to five hits, four of which were singles.
“John did a great job after he settled down,” Shamblin said. “I hate that he pitched so well and we couldn’t do anything (offensively) for him.”
Cleveland 002 001 0 – 3 7 1
Ooltewah 220 300 x – 7 10 3
Thompson, Mitchell (3), Dykes (5) and Oliver; Fugate and Binder.
Walker Valley 000 000 0 – 0 6 1
Soddy-Daisy 120 000 x – 3 5 1
Simmons and Oliver; Amos and Clift.
McMinn County vs. Bradley Central, 5 p.m.
Ooltewah vs. East Hamilton, 8 p.m.
Soddy-Daisy vs. Bradley-McMinn winner, 1 p.m.
Walker Valley vs. Bradley-McMinn loser, 4 p.m.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @larryfleming44)